THIEF IN LAW

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Chapter 21

The white panel van marked with a Hastings Elevator Works sign on the side, pulled into the rear loading area of 28 Hatton Garden lane at 5:35 pm on Friday the 6th of April 2013. The security camera recorded the van disgorging four workers in coveralls and sweatshirts. The tall man wore a “Michigan” shirt and seemed to be in charge.

Three other workers entered the picture from the street side on foot and they wore hard hats, vests and normal work clothes.

After a brief discussion, the Michigan man entered the building while checking his clipboard. He searched the first and second floors of the back area of the building looking for the renovation supervisor on day shift. He had trouble locating anyone let alone the supervisor. Finally he spied a thin, black worker sweeping up the remains of some sheet rock in the second floor hallway.

’Mr. Pattinson? Michael Davidson asked the kid who was clearly not in charge of anything.

“No, mate, he’s gone.”

“Oh. What about David, uh Ludgate. Yeah, Ludgate?” he asked checking his clipboard.

“The swing shift guy?”, the sheet rock worker said. “He’s not coming in- Its Good Friday yeah?”

Davidson suspected the man was muslim which would be why he was willing to work today, but it did not matter to him. “Believe me I know”, Mike acknowledged, “we got the order to work this. I had to come in from the states…”

“Oh yeah?” the man said interested.

’Yeah but we got 2-3 days of work, we got to align the tracks and grind..”

The sheet rock guy had heard enough. ’Have at it as far as we are concerned. I’m finished.” The guy threw one comment over his shoulder as he placed the broom in the corner and started down the stairwell. ’I think you’ll have the place to yourself the whole weekend.”

Thanks kid! Davidson thought as he followed down to direct his people. A clipped motion to Rick, and the others got the ball rolling. The van disgorged the metal tube tripod and the tools the gang would use.

The capos and the gang shuttled the gear towards the building and the door which was propped open. The hallway was deserted and dusty as the men hauled the lifter to the dark maw that was the elevator shaft. The car itself was all the way at the third floor and the flimsy tape did nothing to keep the thieves out as they staged what they needed.

Papers, cups, dirt and trash revealed themselves as Rick shone his flashlight down the hole. The renovations workers had obviously been using the shaft as a convenient trash disposal spot while they worked.

“Going in,” was the word on the radio that Michael relayed to the remote stations. An answering click from Ira at his spot at their favorite telephone junction box a few blocks away. Mike supposed they were going to have to provide British telephone with a new lock for the box, theirs being picked so many times.

Sydney’s response came from a mile away, across from the nearest metro police station. Davidson wanted her far away from the stooges and the action as he could get.

Rick and Anton were slowly descending into the hole attached to the standoff bar on the tripod lifter. The motorized winch was capable of several hundred pounds, so it was a simple drop.

’Send it down,” came Ricks voice after clearing and picking his spot.

Graeme, Sergei and Viktor man handled the drill next to the shaft and hooked it up.

The industrial drill was from the DeMater company and was the UK’s finest drill. The XBS1 was both a beauty and a beast. 24,000 rpm, with a twelve inch diameter core width, the water cooled and lubricated drill could bore thru a full 24 inches of granite. OR, 24 inches of hardened concrete. A vault wall that could withstand a missile blast stood no chance against the carbide tipped bits. The heavy motor and base unit brushed up against the wall on its trip down.

’Easy!”

This was Rick’s baby, as he was doing the drilling tonight. He was the one who’d gone to school and knew all about the thing. When you spent 8,000 dollars and another 2,800 on accessories, the company treated you to a full day class and demo checkout-not just a cheesy video.

The string of lights, water tank, extra blades, and a shop vac all followed the drill. water cooler jug after jug went down and back after filling the tank.

Davidson was topside, pacing and freaking as the 46 minutes it took Rick to align and setup the drill dragged by.

“Whats’ the hold up? he couldn’t help but ask after he could take no more.

“Just a minute- it’s not like adjusting your jock,” Sanderson shot back.

Graeme and Mike exchanged looks. Fuckin kid.

Another few anxious minutes and the quiet, “Ready here” call drifted up.

“Hold!”

A click on the radio and he spoke briskly,” Test run, 30 second trial, green set ready.”

Ira and Syd just clicked back acknowledgements. The Russians were under the impression that Trevor was the second remote spotter.

Rick powered up the drill. The noise abysmally loud to those in the hole and in the hallway.

Outside, Davidson thought it wasn’t as bad as he feared in his nightmares. The screech and whine was tolerable and given that they could shut the outside doors, to quiet it down even further, he was pleased.

“Go, Rick.”

The call was followed by flashes on the string of lights.

The sound turned higher pitched and the drill chattered as the guide bit dug into the wall. The water spray splattered off and then the teeth bit deep, grinding through the concrete. The drain unit ran clear and then chalky, thick and grey as the drill did its job. Anton hopped too with the shop vac to stay ahead of the debris.

Mike eyed the phone timer and kept the radio up to his ear for any alarm. He was outside the building and the cameras would catch him anxiously pacing around the courtyard.

More lights flashing let Rick know to cut off the drill.

“Status?” The key call to Ira.

Levinson was monitoring the hastily installed phone line back up alarm system the diamond shops had rigged up. They and the safety deposit company were relying on an old system which piggy backed on the phone signal to alert the police of any problems.

Trouble was the system was terrible. The second the drill started up, the pressure and vibration alarms went off for the vault.

Unfortunately for the safety deposit company, their depositors, the insurance people and everyone who was not a gang of thieves, the alarm was bundled up along a similar line as every other alarm that was plaguing the district since the fire. The alarm went to police headquarters and was logged a a “low level residual problem from the fire. No response necessary.”

“Green.” Ira’s voice was calm, professional.

“Movement?” That call was to Sydney. He risked it with no Russians near.

“Nothing,” she said. Excited and breathless, Mike knew she was high as a kite and bored to tears all at the same time. He knew that feeling well. Welcome to high end burglary.

’Roger, two hour run commencing.”

Starting back he gave Graeme the signal and the drill roared back to screeching life.

The excitement quickly became boring drudgery. Two hours later, Rick came back up splattered and wearing a cocky grin. Gretchen, Sergei and Graeme scrambled down to clean up.

’All most thru!” Another 2 and a half inches” he proclaimed to the boss.

“How’s the machine?, Mike asked.

“I need to swap out the drill bit, he said. We are chewing thru them pretty fast.”

“We only have eight of those mother fuckers. Stretch it.” Mike instructed.

The gang had more holes to drill.

And a problem. When the drill changed pitch again a short while after Rick’s first break, it signified the first break into the vault and Graeme took a moment while it was being repositioned to grab Mike for a consultation.

“Time shammer. Too much time!”

’I can’t make it go any faster, man.” Mike was out of options here. The plan called for six hours of drilling and three hours of work in the vault. It was taking them four hours for this first hole. True, the next three would not be full cores, just half moons as the drill ground out overlapping circles and would take much less time. But it took some time, and they were swiftly running out.

What did it mean?

The two men discussed options while Rick worked away. The solution was scary.

’Really? You’d do that Mike,?” Graeme asked his best friend in the world.

“No choice, man. Give me a better option?” he shot back.

But the Irishman had none. And neither did Gretchen or Ira or Rick for that matter.

The rough opening in the vault was going to be about 36 by 12 if the drill worked properly. The weight loss plan, Mike had insisted on, would pay dividends here- If.

If the 12 hour break in the robbery didn’t totally fuck them.

“Are you shitting me? Sergei was livid upon hearing the news. “We leave this thing wide open for twelve hours while we SLEEP?”

It was almost 7 am on Easter Saturday. A rosy dawn was breaking over the buildings of the city. More people were beginning to appear on the street.

It might be a holiday weekend but things would be open. Shops, bars, the tube. The police. But not the safety deposit box company thank god. And none of the renovation workers would be coming in, Mike knew. It was a risk but a reasonably small one.

“Only thing we can do now, he told the Russian. We need to get some sleep. Time to go,” he finished stoutly.

But Sergei was still adjusting to the change. “What about..”

“We can’t do this during the day, Mike told him emphatically. It has got to look deserted. The paper permits I got specify night work only. Any thing else will draw eyes. Especially the Squad.”

Silence stretched. What if… the capo sent telepathically.

“Then we are fucked, Mike said out loud. He cut off anything else. ’We are beat. Go back to the Thistle, get some rest. 6 pm tonight right back here.”

He was taking an awful risk. The vault was gaping open like a… well, he knew what it was gaping like.

“Green, come help with cleanup.” he radio’d Ira.

The click from Sydney signifying she was headed back to the Rosewood was gratifying. He would text her once he got to the Thistle hotel himself.

The exhausted, dirty crew assembled by the van just out of sight of the cameras.

“We have the slop in the schedule. Gretchen change the flight, please. We are still mailing everything, just tomorrow morning.” The men and woman nodded. “Back in at 6 tonight. Lets haul up that drill,” he told them and they wearily returned to work to finish up.

It took them another two hours to stow everything and lock it away in the storage facility. The tube ride back to the hotel was hot and crowded despite the holiday, and the mood was down. Tough thing to maybe give up the shot at the huge payday.

Mike texted Syd during a small meal break. She was good to go. “Same position as yesterday- 6 pm tonight.” the text was brief.

The “K” answer back was heartening.

The alarm that blared him awake was unwelcome. What was welcome was the absence of news in the early evening. No BBC talking head screaming about a “daring robbery thwarted”

’Stop the lights! Graeme exclaimed as the van pulled up to an apparently undisturbed vault area and building that evening.

“The fuck does that mean”, Viktor asked in his thick way.

“It means, Really!?!” Michael told him. “Graeme is surprised my plan worked.”

Sergei wanted to say something very badly but wisely held up.

The cameras recorded the thieves going back into the building on Saturday night.

The Michigan sweatshirt was replaced by a Montana one.

Gretchen was the first gang member to set foot in the vault. The lithe, thin woman snaked into Rick’s handiwork and finished kicking in the wood paneling that was clad onto the interior of the vault wall. Lights, tools and bags followed her in.

By the time Mike squirmed thru and joined Graeme, Rick, and Viktor alongside the woman, the men had completed cutting away the protective steel cover on the bank of deposit boxes along the back wall next to their hole.

Rick was taking a saws all diamond blade to the thin gap between the door to the box and the hinges. A solid twelve minutes of cutting finished off the hinges and the door was pried open.

The box and its contents were rifled through under the headlamps of the men. Stock certificates, wills, Legal papers, a bit of cash and a three carat ring.

Cash and ring went into a bag and the box was piled up on the opposite wall. All this was done while Mike, Graeme and Gretchen huddled.

“Too long again shammer.”

Mike agreed. The process was killing them. Even with four of them cutting thru hinges it would take too long.

“We aint gettin a third bite at this apple,” Gretchen told the air.

Contingencies. This was what they planned for.

“Try the slide hammers.”

Rick did as directed and picked up a specialized tool. About twenty inches long the slide hammer had a heavy iron sleeve that travelled along a bar. On the butt end a flared portion kept the sleeve in place. The other end contained a retracted pair of steel brackets.

Folded into the hollow 1/2 inch cylinder, the brackets were activate by a trigger button on the shaft. When depressed the brackets snapped out and formed a “T” on the end of the shaft.

Viktor took up a 1/ 2 horse cordless drill with a 1/2 inch tungsten bit attached. Five minutes of grunting produced a hole near the key lock. The balding Russian reamed out the hole and stepped back.

Rick inserted the slide hammer bracket end into the hole. Depressing the button produced a muffled click as the brackets slid home.

Sanderson then forcefully hurled the heavy sleeve towards the butt end of the hammer. The flange stopped the sleeve, transferring the force and mass and energy to the brackets and the door of the box with crashing results.

The door to the storage box flew opened and Rick grinned at the assembled people in the lamplight.

Better.

The second box was inventoried. A ruby signet ring along with a gold coin and a small bar.

“Okay- here it is. Viktor, Graeme, Rick and I will drill holes. Gretchen pops em.” Sergei, Ira and Anton will spell anyone who gets tired.” Mike paused.

“We got 16 target boxes. They should be in the one meter cube slots but not necessarily. Systematically and and soon as we find number 16 we are gone. Got it?”

“Go.”

As with yesterday, the work quickly sucked the big one. The eighth box opened was a jackpot. The beige container that came out had latches but no other markings. Since no one had ever seen one no one was prepared.

’Jesus!” Graeme breathed when he flipped open the lid. The compartmented velvet lined 18 by 12 inch box glittered in the headlamp glow.

Diamonds. White glass sparkling in the light, throwing off colors. 250 to 300 half or three quarter carat stones were bunched in a large compartment on one end. The stones graded up in size until Mike plucked a five carat stunner from the small spot on the other end. The pea sized gem was worth 150,000 easy. The whole box- 15, 16 million. Viktor watched the stone flash and breathed out. ’Holy god!”

“Yep. 15 more. Lets move.” Mike got them focused back.

The beige box went into the special loot bags and the work continued.

Bags filled with scrap and diamonds and other interesting things as the fever gripped them. Four boxes down 12 to go and the gang was working systematically top to bottom on the larger bank of cubes.

Gretchen ealed her way out of the vault as the air got stale and Mike soon followed. The replacements did not complain as they went in this time. Graeme joined his mates topside and he dearly wanted a cigarette while he sucked in lungs full of air.

“Four more hours,” he told Mike between breaths.

“Then the real work starts, Gretchen added mirthlessly.

“Yep.”

The police car pulled into the loading area while the three took their ease. Mike wasn’t alone in nearly jumping out of his skin. The car stopped near the van.

Gretchen and Graeme seemed frozen between running and trying to get loved ones and friends out of danger.

“Stay here, Mike commanded, his voice steady. He pulled a weary face, which in truth was not much of a stretch. As he got to the van he grabbed the clipboard off the front seat and went to the side of the car.

’What can I do for Scotland Yards finest?” he asked purposely misidentifying the metro cops.

The bored cop just took him in and the other two with the van and the building. “Yank?” he said.

’Yes, sir. We’re over here working on the elevator,” He offered the paperwork he’d obtained to detail the renovation work. All fake of course. If the officer did an even cursory check they were fucked.

But the London Works Agency stamp looked vey very good.

“Holiday weekend?”

“Yeah- can’t be helped. We gotta align the tracks and grind down the…”

The man waived at him to stop. “How long then?”

“Another five hours,” Mike told the man with every bit of sincerity and truth he could muster.

“All right then. Crack on.”

And with that the policeman drove off.

Fucking A!

Davidson was very proud his knees did not buckle on the walk back to his stunned colleagues.

“No problem.”

Irish curses, mixed with Portuguese and Spanish epithets, filled the air.

“Don’t say anything to the others. Let’s go.”

Full bags of scrap money and byproduct loot started coming out of the vault. Gretchen took charge topside with Anton watching her closely. In reality Anton watched Gretchen’s ass much more than he did what money went where.

Davidson and the rest were surprised at how much US currency was stored in the boxes. At least a million came out in those duffel bags.

Gretchen took the pre labeled, prepackaged boxes and hundreds of envelopes and started shoving money and rings and even gold into them. Anton was kept hopping counting out bills in stacks containing 8800 to 9500 dollars. Just under the 10,000 limit for shipping overseas. The Cayman Islands would accept numerous deposits by mail. You just needed to have slips. The outside envelopes had been written out by the gang over the preceding weeks and days. There was nothing the authorities could do. Dropped in different mail boxes and slots the envelopes would route thru different handling facilities and all arrive in the Bahamas without incident.

In addition, special boxes were stuffed for the gangs numerous contacts around the world. Lawyers, shipping agents, insurance adjustors, and others all would get retirement boosters. Rings, watches, coins, necklaces, all got put into mailing envelopes. Declared value- 50.00 US. Costume jewelry. Trevor got himself a nice bonus as did their California passport lady.

Two hours after the cop left, a full bag of special beige boxes came up to the van. Gretchen packed this bag very carefully topside. The huge crate, marked Sutton Geology (Samples) was already layered on top with round cylinders of rock. Packages of fake crystals would conceal the diamonds. Gonsolvo took special care to show Anton the felt bags the stones were going into as she poured them from the DeBeers box into the bag in which they would ride to America. Anton nodded along as she worked. And watched her ass.

Rick came up to help with Sergei for the packing. Davidson knew Demetry would insist on having his men watch the proceedings to make sure the gang stayed straight. No problem with that.

Back in the vault, Mike popped open a half meter cube on the top row of the side wall and… There it was.

The beige box they’d come to know so well sat nestled in its temporary home. The last site holders box. That they knew of anyway.

’Got it.”

Graeme, and Viktor threw down their drills in disgust. “Thank god!” The men were exhausted.

Davidson popped open the last three deposit boxes with holes in them and shifted the goodies.

’Tools, lights and loot, guys. Move.”

As the last man in the vault, Mike took a second to survey the place by his headlamp. Empty safety deposit boxes lined the front wall to the vault, blocking the door. He could just imagine the look on the managers face when she opened the door at 8:30 am Monday morning.

Spent cordless drill battery packs littered the floor. There must be fifty of them, he thought. Finger prints? Not from his people. The latex gloves he was wearing were still on under his leather work gloves. You can’t be too careful.

A last look for anything stray left behind and he saw nothing. Good.

“Mikey!”

He wormed his way out of the hole with Graeme and Ira hauling on his arms. Grabbing the canvas cloth that had lined the hole he rode the rope harness up the elevator shaft. While the others broke down the tripod, he replaced the security tape. Can’t have someone getting hurt on the job.

Especially can’t have anyone get shot by the Russians on Demetry’s orders.

Davidson approached the van. The original plan had called for three of his people to drop the bounty off for shipping. Now?

“Sergei, I want you and Viktor to go with Gretchen and Ricky to drop everything off.”

The hard man eyed Mike for some kind of trick. It was just what he was going to demand and now Davidson was telling him to do it. Was this some kind of reverse psychology?

“Dammit, Listen to me. These diamonds aren’t money. They are rocks. Valueless. I can’t eat them. I can’t trade them and I can’t spend them. They are nothing to me! I…we, don’t get paid, until the stones are fenced and the wholesalers pay Demetry and us together. That’s how this works.” He finished up leaning tiredly against the van.

Sergei searched for the trick, looked for the hidden agenda, and could not find it. Something of the speech must have penetrated because he said “yes”, and shot Viktor a look that sent the two men into the van.

’Stick to the plan, Davidson told everyone else. “Plane leaves at 2:00 pm. That’s over six hours from now.”

The cameras recorded the van pulling away and the other group of men walking from the scene on foot to the tube stop. The CCTV coverage was limited in the area and the men were soon lost to electronic eyes.

Mike sending Sergei and Viktor with them actually helped Gretchen and Rick. They got the shit detail from this job. The van made drops all over the royal mail route and package drop boxes throughout the greater London area. Rick split the driving as a handful of envelopes and mailers went in each black and red distinctive post box.

Cargo shipping offices are open even on Easter Sunday. Rick and the woman did not think the Cargill agent, a man of Indian descent, gave a shit one way or another.

The two largest crates were being man handled into position by Viktor and Sergei while Gretchen filled out endless forms. Sergei watched like a hawk as the box was palletized and plastic wrapped.

’Three weeks at the earliest but it looks like May 1st. Depends on the ship and the port and the weather,” The man told her.

“Just the cheapest option- time doesn’t matter,” she replied back. Bored. Just a job to do, no reason to note anything here, her whole demeanor told the man.

Rick and Viktor got to deal with the Pakistani man over the van. The other two were at the storage unit stowing the vests and hard hats and little things they’d used for the robbery.

“12,000 pounds for the the van and all those tools, plus the drill, Rick lamented to the capo.

Both men cracked up, giggling at the absurdity while they split up the money.

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